Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flying on LOT Polish Airlines


Long ago during a North Dakota blizzard, colleague John Sidle and I were debating who had flown into our out of the most airports.  Reverting to the techniques of a fifth grader we got into a “bet you have” and “bet you haven’t” squabble that continued until we made a list of the airports we had been in.  John had been in more than me.

Later in the same conversation the topic turned to who had flown on the most airlines worldwide. Again using fifth grade techniques of “bet you have, bet you haven’t” we continued to squabble until we counted the airlines.  Again, John had bested me.  By the conclusion of that long ago afternoon in Jamestown, North Dakota, John and I had created the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association or NAAALA.  Its name and its purpose were each a parody of the fanaticism of listing by bird watchers and of the American Birding Association.  We developed rules for which airlines could be counted and which airports were legitimate and even developed a list verification committee (John and me) to resolve any outstanding issues among membership over what was countable and what was not.  Having been in existence more than 30 years the rules are still hard and fast:

Rules of the North American Airport and Airline Listing Association

The North American Airport and Airline Listing Association (NAAALA) was founded in 1983 to provide information and competition in the avocation of airline and airport listing.  The growing nationwide interest in keeping track of the airlines one has traveled on, and the airports one has landed at or taken off from gave birth to the NAAALA.  The NAAALA is the only organization that can certify a U.S. or foreign national as a national or international traveler and the level of his or her travel experience. 

To qualify for the official airport list, the airport, seaplane base, or heliport must now have, or have had in the past, scheduled passenger service amd it must have an official three-letter designator code as outlined in the Official Airline Guide (OAG). The purpose of this rule is to delete from the competition any military airports, or any obscure landing strips out in the middle of nowhere.  This eliminates the ability of those with access to military bases to gain an unfair advantage over non-military people in their pursuit of countable airports.  NAAALA encourages airport enthusiasts interested in military bases to count those airports on their own.  However they are excluded from the official tallies based on fairness.  You can land or take off from the airport, seaplane base, or heliport in a private, charter, or scheduled aircraft.  For example, you can count the Jamestown, North Dakota airport (formerly served by Northwest Airlines) if you land or take off there in a private aircraft.  You cannot, however, count the landing strip at Central City, Nebraska, if you land or take off there because the landing strip does not have scheduled passenger service, now or in the past. 

Seaplane bases and heliports that meet the above requirement can be counted separate from a nearby major airport if the seaplane or heliport base is currently listed, or has been listed in the past, in the Official Airline Guide (OAG) and has a three-letter designator code.  For instance, the downtown seaplane base in Miami, Florida (formerly served by Chalk's International Airlines) is countable, but the seaplane base at Lake Hood, Alaska, adjacent to the Anchorage International Airport, is not countable because it is not listed in the OAG, now or in the past.  If in the future an airline begins service to an airport that does not meet the current criteria that airport can be counted when the criteria are met even if you landed at or took off from the airport before it was officially countable.  Any challenge to these rules will be reviewed by the NAAALA list verification committee.

Listing an airline simply involves counting any commercially flown airline including charter airlines and charter helicopter companies.  If you are new to airline listing, you will be happy to know that the NAAALA does not lump merged airlines.  If you have flown the airline before the merger date, the airline is countable (this is a significant departure from bird listing where participants worry continuously about the next round of lumps and splits).  For example, Delta Airlines is a conglomeration of Northwest Airlines, Northwest Orient, Republic Airlines, Hughes Airwest, Western Airlines,  National Airlines, Pan Am, Southern Airlines, and North Central Airlines.  If, prior to the merger, you flew Hughes Airwest, you can count it as well as Delta Airlines if the latter has been flown since the merger date.  A verification committee exists to resolve conflicts with countable airports and airlines.

Although we still maintain the NAAALA and its rules I’m really the only “member” actually pursuing new airlines and airports for my many lists.  I continue to do so today and still look at the probability of adding new airports or airlines or both whenever travel allows.  NAAALA and the quest for more were in the forefront of my mind in January 2014 when I booked a transatlantic cruise from Copenhagen, Denmark to Miami.  Flying to Copenhagen to begin the cruise would give me a new country (#112) and a new airport (# 543). The trip also allowed time for a little exploration and perhaps an additional airport or airline since I was in the neighborhood.

For some time I have tried to find an excuse and cheap airfare to fly to Poland. Some family heritage lies in that country as well as some very well documented history of human abuses.  Trips elsewhere brought me close to Poland but I never had the opportunity to go there. 

That was until this cruise and my flight to Copenhagen.  LOT Polish Airlines has 2 or 3 daily nonstops from Copenhagen to Warsaw and I decided as part of my Danish trip to make a day trip to Poland.  I chose Saturday October 4, 2014 for the trip.

The Plane

LOT Polish Airlines’ fleet appears now to be made up of Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s used on long-haul flights to Chicago, New York, Tel Aviv and other distant locations.  The remainder of its fleet is made up of ultra-efficient and very comfortable Embraer 195 aircraft that are used for more regional flights and that was the craft of choice today.


LOT offered two classes of service; Business Class and Coach.  I was tempted to fly in Business Class just to add another airline to my list of those flown in Business/First Class.  However it really wasn’t worth the added expense to sit up front for a 75 minute flight so I remained in coach.

The Flight

For the trip to Warsaw (life airport # 544) I chose LOT Polish Airlines (life airline # 206) flight 461 departing Copenhagen at 9:25 local time arriving in Warsaw at 10:40.  A late afternoon return would give me a bit of time to explore a museum or two in Warsaw and still be back in Copenhagen in time for dinner.

I booked my flight in March 2014 using Orbitz.com   I wanted to use the LOT website but their site flatly refused to accept the phone number I gave it so the reservation could never be completed. Orbitz didn’t seem to care about my phone number so I went with them.

Our flight left the gate in Terminal 3 a few minutes early.  The departure lounge was comfortable and announcements were made in Polish, Danish, and English so there were no misunderstandings.  I was seated in a port window forward of the wing which afforded excellent views of the terrain over which we flew.  Departing the gate we made a quick taxi to the runway and were quickly airborne. 

Once at a safe cruising altitude the inflight crew came through with breakfast sandwiches, coffee, tea, and pop.  All of which were high quality and the sandwich was quite tasty.  Beer and wine were also available and despite it always being 5 o’clock somewhere I decided not to imbibe.  After our meal the flight crew quickly collected the containers and bottles then gave us all a mint and let us return to what we were doing.

The comfortable interior of the EMB 195 makes it a pleasure to fly in

The flight was nearly full and being a Saturday it had more than its share of screaming kids and harried parents trying to keep them under control.  My leather seat was very comfortable and with it was more than adequate legroom.  My seatmate, a zoned out 20-something who was likely under the influence of something illegal kept to himself and said very little.  Lighting in the plane was excellent for reading and the large window provided superb views of the terrain below.

Our route of flight took us east over Malmo, Sweden, then out over the Baltic Sea to some German islands and then quickly to the border of Poland.  The pilot was one of those I enjoy flying with – he seemed to be as interested in geography as me and kept us informed of our location as we sped east.

I sat glued to the window as we passed over Polish countryside south of Gdansk.  My maternal grandmother’s father and mother immigrated to the United States from Flatow, Germany.  After one or two World Wars the boundaries changed and Flatow is now Flatow, Poland.  Before departing the Copenhagen airport I asked the co-pilot if we would be flying anywhere near Flatow.  Unfortunately he had never heard of the town and I didn’t have my Polish highway map with me so I will never know.  What I saw of Poland was extensive areas of heavy forest intermixed with large areas of agricultural land. From the air it appeared to be land that was begging to be explored and one of these days my daughter Jennifer and I want to make a pilgrimage there to find out where our genes originated.

Arrival

The 75 minute geography lesson provided by LOT went by very quickly and we were soon on approach to Fredric Chopin International Airport in Warsaw.  Poland became the 113th country I have visited in my lifetime.  Our vectoring took us over much of the metropolitan area and ultimately we landed to the north.  Taxi to the terminal was smooth and we were off the plane and out of the terminal 10 minutes after arrival at the gate.


Reading departure signs in the Warsaw airport- is certain to contribute to your incurable tendencies for wanderlust


Conclusion

All in all this was an excellent albeit quick flight and introduction to LOT Polish Airlines.  The plane was immaculately clean inside and out, the inflight service was better than on almost any airline in the United States, and the pilot seemed to go out of his way to keep us informed of every nuance of the flight.


Would I ever fly LOT Polish Airlines again?  Certainly – in a heartbeat, and I look forward to the day I can do so.

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